Blog > Winter Mountaineering

Proper Cold at last. 22 March


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Our great quantities of snow have been frustratingly soft for axe placements all winter but the hard freeze after this weeks thaw has finally given us the hard neve needed to climb some steeper routes. Hopefully a week of fun ahead!

Great day out today but very demanding and serious conditions which is the price to pay for harder snow. We started up Broad Gully then onto Sgurr a Bhasteir. Normally a simple grade I winter route the gully held some steeper sections but mainly a lack of any opportunity to rest the burning calves. Fresh snow drifted on top was thought provoking but our front points were able to bite through.

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The NE Ridge of Sgurr a Bhasteir is also a simple grade I route in both summer and winter ordinarily but sections of hard snow out above the yawning void of the north face heightened concentration & tension about as high as the lactic acid in the legs.

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The reward for all this graft was an immaculate horizontal crest of snow leading into Bealach na Lice and stunning views all around.

The obligatory bumslide was a mix of slow powder and ice sections that positively gave you a warm butt as the speed built up; not recommended anywhere apart from the gentlest of slopes at the minute!

In fact the icy conditions warrant a severe health warning not only in action but also when planning your route; I would certainly hesitate before planning to descend something like the Great Stone Shoot even with all the kit just now because of the combo of hard  snow with deep pockets  of powder.

Enjoy the pics-

First Pinn of the year!


Rachel suggested a look at the Pinn would float her boat last week and I nearly baulked. Luckily a weekend of warm rain hasn’t stripped the Main Cuillin Ridge but has left the Pinn nearly snow free. Crampons & axe were uneccesary precautions but couldn’t begin to spoil the pleasure of a delightful warm reunion with me old mucker Mr Pinn.

Pinns not steep

The Pinn was just a cherry on the cake of a superb alpine outing though. We hit hard snow at under 600m mark and enjoyed perfect consistency right to the summit of Sgurr Dearg.

Long drop

The sun started to do its damage soon after midday but even this was pretty limited with a keen breeze keeping things cool up there.

Snow crest

Time for a Traverse before things break down Thursday evening and I’d suggest seriously contemplating some head-torch time to make good time on the harder snow. You’ll touch rocks at the toe of An Stac for the first time proper and increasingly after that but noty enough to loose crampons from what I saw.

SHould be some clues in the gallery photos-

Back to incredible Cuillin conditions; 2 & 3 March.


P1000383 (800x600)Clach Glas from the Great Prow

It would appear that Skye stayed at least as cold on the tops as the rest of Scotland over the past weekend which I hadn’t anticipated myself. One guy made a fantastic effort on a full Traverse starting by Pinnacle Ridge on Friday, bivvying at Glaic Moire and finally being defeated by winds & blizzards at Mhicchoinnich. He reported near perfect snow conditions with little harder than grade III.

I can certainly confiorm this after 2 excellent days out with Andy & Nick Burton.

GLen sligachanForked Pinnacle Ridge above Glen Sligachan

Winter and Cuillin virgins they coped very well in the howling gales on Banachdaich yesterday and definitely got the luck they deserved with a Traverse of Blaven Today. Out agin in the morning so I’ll just include a gallery below.-

Skiing and Snowboarding in Fionn Choire


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Half way up. We made it about as far as where the cloud is sitting in the corrie.

Time for a change of hobby with all this soft snow. Angus and I loaded ourselves up and headed up into Fionn Choire at the northern end of the Cuillin. Going under foot wasn’t too deep and slow but the extra weight and wind catching the “sails” gave burning thighs.P1000088 (800x600)

Angus getting into the groove

No real action photos but some great videos of Angus boarding on Face Book; start here-

I’m not looking forward to videos of my inept skiing leakiing onto the net but I got down in one piece, managed to put in a few turns and can’t wait to do it again.

Gillean Traverse; a full-on experience. 10th Feb


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Approaching the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean today

Chris is off for an expedition to Greenland in April and in serious training mode. Before spending the last 2 days with me he’d been climbing in Glen Coe for a week; his last day meant it was time to brace ourselves for some serious hard work.

With an improved forecast traversing Sgurr nan Gillean was the aim. Trying to decide whether Coir’ a’ Bhasteir  or the Tourist Route would be less arduous was near enough 50:50 so we plummed for the more direct approach by the West Ridge. In the end the snow wasn’t too bad, rarely more than knee deep and we made it to the foot of the West ridge in about 2.5 hours.

2014_0210skyefeb140035 (800x600)Squeezing through The Window; I was surprised it wasn’t blocked.

The rest of the day was more than ample reward for our efforts- a 50m pitch up an incredibly banked out Tooth Chimney even had some nice ice. The ridge above was like something out of Narnia with dramatic sculptures of rounded snow and star-bursts of rime ice on the few rocks left exposed.

The summit cairn and narrow crest of the Tourist Route ahead resembled a weird cross between an anaconda and a beluga whale, intimidating as hell but far easier than in summer thank goodness.

P1130378 (800x600)Summit Cairn and top of the Tourist Route

A quick abseil was followed by a 100m traverse across steeep terrain that, again, proved far easier than its summer equivlant.

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Abseiling down the Tourist Route

Normally the best line follows the ridge down for another 300m or so before cutting northward back towards Sligachan but so much wonderful deep snow was too good to miss. Everything apart from helmets was put into the sacks and, with Sochi in mind, we competed for the bumsliding gold medal. So fantastic were conditions that we ended up with possibly a new Skye record covering just under a kilometre and losing 300m of height in about 5 minutes! Who needs skis?

BumslideLine showing our olympic bumslide

Some of you may have noticed the quality of pictures has dropped dramatically recently. Sadly a common problem with my wonderful Lumix is that the focus motor goes; new one arriving tomorrow so hopefully back to getting some decent shots again soon. The forecast is finally looking cold & promising!

Great outing “snatched from the jaws of rugby temptation”. 8th Feb


Yesterday morning Chris, Nathan and I sat in Glen Brittle watching horizontal plumes of powder ripping off the ridges above us. The afternoon promised even fiercer winds and the temptation to run straight to the pub was strong. Being a bit early for this we steeled ourselves for a bracing wander as far as the winds and deep powder snow would allow us. The decision was rewarded with great snow conditions, hardly a breath of wind until we topped out and an excellent climb. The rugby match results were well worth missing!

DSCF1561 (800x600)Starting out on the Thuilm-Mhadaidh Ridge

Despite yet more heavy snow fall there was very little depth on top of the consolidated layers so progress was rapid. The exception to this was the best bum-slide of the year so far as we shot 500ft down from An Dorus in a matter of seconds.

DSCF1568 (800x600)Chris and I disappearing down the bumslide.

The motto is never write a day off but thats a lot easier said than done with some of the weather we’ve been getting so far this winter!

Enjoy the gallery-

Mega-snow show continues; 6th Feb.


P1130239 (800x600)Our white world with the Red Cuillin horeshoe behind.

Yet more large quantities of snow have fallen over the past few days and I got a tip-off to avoid swimming in the corries.

P1130243 (800x600)Half-way up the NE Ridge (grade I)

Approaching by a ridge somewhat limits objectives but the NE ridge of Sgurr a’ Bhasteir is a firm favourite because it scours and goes, er, firm quicker than most.

P1130222 (800x600)Pinnacle Ridge looking loaded.

What took me by surpise was the narrowness and size of the crest as we traversed into bealach na Lice. It was serious enough that I wanted to be roped up which somewhat surprised Graham & Peter. I may be getting soft but spying the boundary between the banked powder on either side was proving impossible. The drops may be less but this was a mini Rochefort Arete and Peter pointed out that the Alps normally have a trench of footsteps showing the best way!

P1130263 (800x600)Our mini-Rochefort Arete

At the head of Fionn Choire the drifts are now building up into huge bulging humps that must be rising 3 or 4 metres above the rocks. Huge fins of rime ice point out to the south-west and the summit cairn of Bruach na Frithe is nearly buried completely.

P1130271 (800x600)This fin was over half a metre long. They grow into the prevailing wind.

The knee-deep snow as we dropped down Fionn Choire just exaggerated my thought that I wish I had got skis; it would have been perfect right down to 1000ft!

Cuillin Ridge crest in full winter garb


The weather finally settled down a wee bit in the middle of last week, enough for Ally and I to get out and see what all this wild weather has produced. Very impressive indeed!

plasteredAlly abseiling down from Bealach Thormaid

We opted for a broad open gully line that finishes near the sumit of Sgurr na Banachdaich. The line traverses out almost horizontally for 100m from just below the Bealach Thormaid on the Coruisk side. A short, 30m, steeper section leads up into a broad finishing bowl and the summit above. It was short and sweet giving 4 pitches and grade II for the steep section in the conditions we found.

False Gully IIHigh above Coruisk after the steep section.

I scrambled up the same line a couple of years ago in snow-free conditions. In summer it is often taken by mistake by climbers heading north along the Ridge so we’ve called it False Gully. Hopefully, in time, this will raise awareness of its presence as a false trail for future parties.

Sun rays over Rum

Wild & wonderful on Banachdaich, 27 January.


Exposure beneath central top


Traversing benath the Central top of Banachdaich.

A wild and stormy start to the day was supposed to clear by 10am but nobody told the Cuillin weather gods. However, despite the appalling weather, snow conditions underfoot were very good. The fresh snow still had a lot of damp in it and should harden readily if we can get a freeze before the next thaw. I’d even go so far as to suggest a Winter Traverse might be possible.

Coated crestNearing 3rd top of Banachdaich

Its the first time that I’ve ever had my group shelter out “in anger”; providing shelter to add extra layers and eat a good quantity before pushing on to the top. We would only have managed a quick bite in that weather otherwise. It was a no brainer to whip it out again when we reached the top and needed to put the crampons and harnesses on. Although we carry them every day its only in extremis that this piece of kit really proves its worth.

From the summit we traversed the ridge southward to Bealach na Banachdaich. Fresh snow had only drifted up to about a foot or so deep and I knew it was lying mainly straight onto rock (this end of the crest was virtually snow-free by Tuesday last week) so had very few worries about it breaking away.Snowy descent

With little sign of improvement we decided against ascending to look at the Pinn and fought our way down into the stinging hailstones. Again we were lucky with underfoot conditions, ditched crampons early and slid our way down deep banks of fluffy white-stuff:-)

Happy chappies